If I had my own DeLorean, I would travel back six years and tell my 35-year-old self that the road’s about to get bumpy, and here’s what you need to know to navigate it. After all, most people don’t know a lot about infertility until they’re already in the thick of it, and then it’s like a desperate dash to try to understand (and overcome) unexpected fertility challenges.
That was definitely the case for me: My diagnosis of diminished ovarian reserve at age 36 completely blindsided me, and it took three years, two IUIs, three IVF cycles, two miscarriages and a whole lot of resources and support to reach the other side. So, if I can use what I learned along the way to help others point their GPS in the right direction, I’m all for it — because when it comes to infertility, ignorance isn’t bliss. Below, five lessons I’ve learned, thanks to 20/20 hindsight.
Before I struggled with infertility, I (mistakenly) thought that doing IVF was the fast track to getting pregnant. After all, if you’re spending thousands of dollars and shooting yourself up with hormones, it must be a sure thing, right? What I didn’t know was that less than half of all IVF cycles (excluding donor egg cycles) result in a live birth — and as you get older, that percentage gets drastically lower (down to 15.7 percent for 41- and 42-year-old women).
Cue my utter devastation when my first IVF cycle didn’t work. My husband and I had done a few unsuccessful IUI cycles when we got the opportunity to join a clinical trial and decided to take the plunge into IVF with relatively little preparation. I jumped at the chance to get a “low-cost” cycle for $3,500, thinking it would be a surefire solution to our fertility issues. What I didn’t know was that the protocol was completely wrong for me and that the medication would completely suppress my ovaries, resulting in a Big Fat Negative.
On that note...
It’s easy to get caught up in comparing notes with others going through infertility. Everyone’s eager to help each other, and support groups are full of women sharing tips on supplements, medications and other approaches that worked. But infertility is highly individual, and what helps one person may hamper someone else’s efforts.
For instance, I see people recommending DHEA to others a lot, and I can see why, as someone who is “adrenally challenged.” This supplement helped me restore egg quality and achieve healthier levels of testosterone. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all elixir. Dr. Geoffrey Sher of Sher Fertility believes that the supplement can fuel a “testosterone overload” that could be detrimental to older women and those with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome).
Translation: It’s best to do your own research and work with a professional to design a customized regimen and treatment protocol. Even then, it’s not always evident right away, as it can often take two or more fertility treatments to discover what works best for your body (as I learned the hard way). I also recommend the book It Starts With the Egg, which does a great job of breaking down various diagnoses and suggesting supplements for each.
Ultrasounds and blood tests and consultations, oh my! The process of doing fertility treatments can take over your life — and your schedule definitely pays the price. During treatment cycles, monitoring appointments are often every other day (not counting trips to the pharmacy and other related things like acupuncture). Then there’s the retrieval surgery and/or embryo transfer, which can require taking multiple days off work. As one person in my support group put it, “It’s like a second job.”
As a freelance writer, I’m lucky enough to be able to work from home, so it wasn’t a huge deal for me to bring my laptop to the doctor’s office and sit in the waiting room (sometimes for as long as three hours!). But for teachers and others with inflexible schedules, I can’t imagine what it would be like to try to make it all work — not to mention the nosy or insensitive questions that might arise from coworkers and superiors.
Going through infertility is like one big “in-between” phase. You’re still in childfree mode, but you're also hoping that will change sooner than later and doing whatever it takes to get from Point A to Point B. In the meantime, it’s difficult to make travel plans (both personal and professional)... or any plans, really. Planning ahead becomes a game of “If I’m pregnant, then [X], but if I’m not pregnant, then [Y].”
There are also those empty spaces between fertility treatments, where you’re feverishly planning for the next one and making lots of lifestyle changes to boost your chances. (Or maybe you’re just trying to save up enough money to even afford another treatment.)
The feeling of limbo can also extend to watching friends and family members move forward with their lives and successfully conceive babies while you’re unsure if you’ll ever reach that stage. It’s unsettling to live in perpetual limbo, but talking to a therapist, friend or partner can help.
When you’re in the thick of it, it’s easy to dream about leaving those difficult days behind and moving on for good once you have a family. That’s not as easy as it sounds.
RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association, refers to infertility survivors as having “resolved” their infertility. As someone who fits into that category, however, I can definitively say that my struggle with infertility continues to color my actions and thoughts every single day. Whether it’s relishing the feeling of hugging my 2-year-old twins, having irrational fears about their safety, trying to lose the weight I gained over three IVF cycles and my pregnancy, or recognizing lingering depression and self-worth issues stemming from that time of my life, it’s all still there — and I’m OK with that.
While I’ve left it behind, I never want to forget, and now that I know the outcome, I would happily take that DeLorean to do it all over again — but with the knowledge and experience from a few hard-earned lessons leading the way.
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